Emotional resilience is the product of our own experiences. The unique thing about emotional resilience is that unlike physical resilience, our experiences need not be the same as the adversity that we now face.
In the training environment this type of “crossover” is exploited to help create emotional resilience in a number of professions. Airline pilots, the military, sales people, law enforcement officers and most recently healthcare professionals employ Immersion Simulation Environments to introduce controlled, simulated stress in a way that allows these professionals to develop emotional resilience.
The Internet abounds with software programs and even video games that allow a business person to “practice” their financial forecasting skills in their business management. Computer games and board games even provide an opportunity for emotional growth and the development of life skills.
But there is no “Flight Simulator” for life… or is there?
The “Flight Simulator” for life adversity and business adversity however is experience. The confidence that comes from encountering and overcoming the ebb and flow of daily life gently fills our canteen of emotional resilience. It is in the dealing with the burnt dinner, the flat tire, the person in the ten item checkout line with 12 items, and the crying babies in the theatre they give us the opportunity to build our emotional resilience.
Whether or not we in fact use these “life lessons” to fill or drain our canteen is entirely our choice. We all know individuals who spend their lives complaining. Every little set back is a major problem, every challenge an insurmountable object. Some of these individuals when faced with a truly tragic adverse life event “rise to the occasion.” Everyone one around them is amazed that this individual is “managing so well.” Unfortunately this is the rare outcome of failing to build emotional resilience from everyday life. In reality these individuals when studied (and they have been) are really drawing their resilience from the other three canteens and in fact most often from their spiritual canteen. When studied objectively it is often discovered that these individuals are emotionally overwrought or emotionally numbed. Their emotional canteen is bone dry and they are compensating from their other canteens.
On the other hand we all know people for whom life’s little tragedies are nothing more than minor tribulations. These individuals are lights in the lives of their friends and colleagues. They are safe harbors when the emotional waters become stirred. They are often described with phrases such as “unflappable” or “steadfast”, or “strong.”
With these individuals the trials of everyday life reassure them of their own strength and fill their emotional canteen.
It is not just our challenges that fill our canteen. While our relationships fill our relationship canteen the emotions that are relationships create within us fill our emotional canteen. That is right, we get a two for one return on our investment. Even better, our emotional canteen is filled by the casual relationships we have at work. While is true that some of these work relationships fill our relationship canteen by being friendships as well, the encouraging pat on the back from a boss, the applause or accolades of colleagues and even the comradery at the water cooler provides a sense of belonging and inclusion that quickly fills our emotional canteen to overflowing.
Our emotional canteen is also one of two that we can share with others. During times of adversary we can actually help fill another person’s emotional canteen by sharing the life experiences and the feelings that surround those experiences with that other person.
The beauty of this ability to share emotional resilience is that it does not take even one drop from own canteen. In an almost miraculous fashion the sharing of the contents of emotional canteen allows us to pour almost perpetually into the canteens of others and yet retain a full canteen for ourselves. It is not until we begin to sip or gulp from our own emotional reserve that we, ourselves, need to seek replenishment. Live richly, love honestly and fill the canteen of emotional resilience.
(Excerpted from my lecture series and book Avoiding Business Disasters: Lessons from the Disaster Field Office)